• Kaya Long

Appreciation for the Right to Vote

It is elections, such as this one, that make the citizens of America exceptionally grateful for their right to vote. As of right now, over 145.6 million Americans have successfully voted in the 2020 election through a combination of mail-in ballots and in-person polls. We often forget that this is not an entitlement. Just a few decades ago, this was a privilege awarded to only a few select people in this country. In the fight for voting to become an American right for everyone, many courageous individuals risked the safety of both themselves and their own families. Among these civil rights activists, is former American statesman John Lewis.

CREDIT J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

John Lewis


John Lewis grew up in Alabama in the early 1940s to the late 1950s, a time when African American men and women could not register to vote. In a 2009 “Fresh Air” interview, Lewis recalls that his family “could not register to vote because each time they attempted to register to vote, they were told they could not pass the literacy test.” Many people were simply too intimidated to make this attempt. There were many stories of the danger of voting including “places in Alabama where people were evicted from their farm” and the potential of job loss. In regard to this pronounced racial discrimination, Lewis’ parents advised him to “not to get in the way” and “not to get in trouble”.


CREDIT SAM FALK

John Lewis in 1967.


On March 7th, 1965, Lewis banded together with about 600 others to march all the way from Selma to Montgomery. They marched in silence, but when they finally arrived at the bridge crossing the Alabama rivers, they were met with Alabama state troopers who, “in less than a minute and a half,” initiated a violent attack.


Lewis describes his experience, saying “they came toward us, beating us with bullwhips, nightsticks, trampling us with horses and releasing the tear gas. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I thought I was going to die.”



CREDIT SPIDER MARTIN

“Bloody Sunday” moments before the officers began to attack.


CREDIT AP FILE


This protest, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” was broadcasted across the country on the radio and television, resulting in demonstrations in more than 80 cities across the nation that demanded the government to take action. The violence they received in response to their peaceful protest “created a sense of righteous indignation among the American people”. Just eight says after the march, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act.



CREDIT AP FILE

John Lewis marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7th, 1965.

CREDIT BILL CLARK

John stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on February 14th, 2015.


John Lewis found his power in the words of other civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, who inspired him to get into what he calls both “good” and “necessary trouble.” King’s words lead to Lewis’ acceptance of the idea that “we are all complacent when we tolerate injustice” and encouraged him to stand up for what he believed in. Growing up surrounded by a sea of segregation, Lewis recalls that “It seemed like he was saying to me, John Lewis, you, too, can make a contribution.”


In July, earlier this year, John Lewis released a statement titled “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation” urging the future generation to continue to advocate for freedom and use their “power to make a difference”. In both the interview from eleven years ago, and this recent statement released just four days prior to his death, Lewis encourages our generation to take risks, and “stand up, speak up, and speak out” against injustice. When the time comes, we must remember the importance of utilizing “the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society”: the right to vote.


CREDIT CAROLYN KASTER

“I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”

- John Lewis



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